Slack environmentalism

Recently I was invited to have a stall at an arts and craft fair called Creative Lane in Marrickville on July 31st (Sunday). The energetic organiser of the event, Suki, was preparing a brochure for the event featuring the stallholders, and she wanted each of us to contribute a full-page content for it. At first I thought I didn’t have time for it (really, how many weeks has it been since my last blog post?), but upon further encouragement from Suki, I decided to just do it. This is what I came up with:

I’m a slack sort of an environmentalist. I always have the best intention of doing my bit to save the earth, but when it comes to the grind of daily life with two little ones, the sad truth is my actions often don’t live up to my ideal. Often I don’t have the energy or patience to make sacrifices for a cause. Remember that Murphy Brown episode where a hungry and tired Murphy orders a delivery of takeaway, and it arrives in a Styrofoam container she’d vowed to boycott? She hesitates but sends it back in the end. If it were me, I would eat it in a heartbeat. I’m weak that way.

Take cloth nappies, for example. I used cloth nappies (and cloth wipes) for my first child. But when the second one arrived two years later, there was a lot of washing to be done with the two of them in nappies. And the “one size” cloth nappies I had bought didn’t fit my youngest well. There was a lot of leakage… and hence more washing. So I gave in and started using disposables.

But other “green” choices are easier for me to make, because they don’t require any sacrifice on my part – and offer only benefits. I buy used kids’ clothing because it’s cheap and wearable. I adore the feel of natural fabrics like cotton and linen, and use them whenever possible in lieu of synthetics. Organic food is not only earth-friendly but tastes better. And composting? I love how I don’t have to squeeze all the garbage into the bin every week to make it fit.

The handmade accessories I make reflect my penchant for no-sacrifice environmentalism. The fabric lunch bags are great alternatives to bulky plastic ones since they’re lightweight, easy to store, and machine washable (i.e. more hygienic). Same with my daycare bags, which are machine washable and for that reason alone  better than stain-prone plastic backpacks in the shops. And when wiping those grubby little faces, I much prefer using my organic cotton washers in lieu of disposable wipes or tissue – they’re prettier, feel better in your hands and on my kids’ delicate skin, and have no nasty chemicals. The things I make for my shop are things I love using every day – and as a bonus they happen to be earth-friendly.

Because, seriously, parenting is hard work. We all want to save the earth, but if we can do our bit without a big sacrifice… wouldn’t we all prefer a win-win situation?

Sounds good, doesn’t it? The thing is, upon writing this and sending it off to Suki, I suddenly began to feel guilty. Guilty about the disposable nappies I’m still using six months after Miss M was toilet trained. Guilty about still using my apartment-era clothes dryer sometimes, even though our new house came with the biggest Hills Hoist ever, just because I like my towels soft or because the weather is a bit chilly outside.

Driven by this wave of guilt, I remembered a book review a while ago, about a family in New York who, as an experiment, lived a whole year in a sustainable way — in an extremely sustainable way in fact: no driving cars or using public transport, using no disposable anything, including coffee cups and toilet paper, and not even using an elevator.  The book is called No Impact Man by Colin Beavan. I bought the Kindle version of the book and started reading it straight away.

Well I’m still reading it, but so far, No Impact Man is having a devastating impact on my conscience. All the more so because Beavan is such a fantastic writer and the book is an entertaining read – there is a lot of interesting family drama involved in his experiment (his experiment applied to the whole family – his fur-loving wife and their 18-month-old daughter). In particular, Beavan’s account of how he struggled to reduce – to zero – the vast amount of garbage the family had previously generated, including disposable nappies and take-away containers, is sending my level of guilt and shame to overdrive.

Forget that I compost, recycle, use “earth-friendly” cleaning products, or use cloth handkerchiefs — suddenly these things seem like trivial trickles in light of the ocean of transgressions I am making elsewhere. How could I have possibly thought it was okay to buy yoghurt in plastic squirt tubes just to placate my whiney kids while grocery shopping? How can I justify driving my gas-guzzling V6 car for 40 minutes each way to an organic market? Or anywhere for that matter? And all that fabric I buy from overseas… how much damage in carbon emission is that causing?

I am not a slack sort of an environmentalist. I am just slack.

Things will have to change. I can’t give up toilet paper or avoid driving altogether… but I cannot avoid making sacrifices anymore. I need to go beyond my yuppy comfort zone. I am hopeful though, that “sacrifices” may not feel like sacrifices anymore when you  begin to realize your wants and needs were unjustified to begin with. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate win-win situation?

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